When Jeff Oldenburg bought his son Mitchell his first dirt bike at 4 years old, he couldn’t get him on it.
“I’d ask him if he wanted to ride and he said no,” Jeff recalled. “Months went by and every time we’d go out, I’d ask him if he wanted to ride. I gave up asking after a while. About three months later he got on the bike. But he wasn’t going to do it until he was ready.”
Fourteen years later, Mitchell rarely leaves the bike, riding his Monster Energy Kawasaki to the South Central Open Pro Sport and 450 championship in June. Next week, he will try for a national crown at the American Motorcyclist Association’s Amateur National Motocross Championships at Loretta Lynn Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tenn.
Mitchell, 18, will race four days Tuesday through Friday at the nation’s largest amateur event against the sport’s fastest.
“I feel good and have been working hard, not only for Loretta but also for the pros,” Mitchell said. “I want to do this for a living.”
Racing and motocross are in his blood. His father, who operates Oak Hill Raceway near Alvord, has been in the sport since 1973. Mitchell’s older brother, McCoy, also races, but is currently recovering from a knee injury.
Even with that racing background, Mitchell didn’t immediately jump on the bike and compete.
“His first year, he was slow and wouldn’t let it go,” Jeff said. “Now, he’s one of the fastest in the country.”
It’s been hours and hours of turning laps around the Oak Hill track along with an extensive workout regimen that includes lifting weights and cardio training.
“I ride four to five days per week for four to six hours; go to the gym two days and do cardio five days,” Mitchell said. “If you want to do this, you’ve got to make it a job and give it your all.”
Jeff said his son’s work ethic has turned him into the rider he’s become.
“The kid gets up at 7 a.m. and is at the gym or on the road,” he said. “He’s his own mechanic and works on his bikes. He spends three to four hours riding and then hits the road bike. He washes his bike and gear, and gets it ready for the next day.
“He has a good work ethic. The difference between that half-percent and the rest is the will to work at it.”
That work ethic is fueled by a passion for the sport of motocross.
“This is all I’ve been doing since I was 4,” Mitchell said. “It’s in my blood.”
He’s also addicted to the thrills on the bike as he defies gravity, flying over hills and tests the limits of his balance whipping around turns. His ability to cut around corners, he said, gives him an advantage on the course.
The speeds of up to 65 mph and jumps high in the air don’t phase him.
“It’s definitely scary at first,” he said. “But it’s all about comfort, and since I’ve been doing it since I was born, I’ve gotten used to it.”
With each physics-testing move on the track, he and his other racers ride a thin line between triumph and catastrophe. Mitchell has had his share of injuries, including a broken collarbone, pelvis, arm, wrist and tailbone. He’s also had a few concussions.
“I’ve had a few injuries,” he admitted. “The broken pelvis was bad. I couldn’t move for 10 days.
“It’s weird every time you get injured and are laying on the track with a broken bone, you say you’re done. Then two weeks go by and you’re bored and all you want to do is ride again.”
Mitchell and his father recognize the danger of the sport. But Jeff points out how it has brought their family together.
“It is a dangerous sport,” he said. “But I know where my kids are at all times. How many parents can say that?”
Mitchell, who has captured national titles at lower levels, has had success at Loretta Lynn Ranch over the years. He won a championship in the 50 class and won a moto in the 125s. In 2010 he finished fifth.
He will race in the top two classes, 250 and 450, against the nation’s best.
“The competition is tough, and there will be a lot of fast guys there,” Mitchell said. “I’m going to focus on me. If I’m not first, I’m going to work harder next time.”
With aspirations of turning pro over the winter, Mitchell realizes that the stakes are high this year at the spotlight event to attract big-time sponsors. He is currently helped by 11 different sponsors including Monster Energy Kawasaki and Karl Klement Ford in Decatur.
Mitchell said the usually exciting atmosphere in Tennessee will be mixed with anxiety.
“It’s a fun atmosphere with a lot going on,” Mitchell said. “It’s definitely the most stressful. If you want all the support, it’s the race you have to do well at. The highs are great, and the lows suck.”